Toshiya (通し矢)

Toshiya was an event held as part of of Kyujutsu (the Japanese classical martial art of shooting an arrow from a bow at a target). It was also called Dosha or Domae. It was a contest held under the westside eaves of Renge-o-in Temple (also called Sanjusangen-do Hall) in Kyoto, and the contestants shot their arrows through the hallway from south to north. There existed some kinds of events within the Toshiya, and among them, 'Oyakazu' is well-known, in which participants competed for the most number of arrows that could be shot through from the southern edge to the northern edge of the hallway during an entire day and night. Toshiya was at its peak in the early Edo period, when many shooters backed by powerful feudal clans challenged the best record to hit new highs one after another. Large scale contests ceased to exist starting from the middle of the Edo period. Besides Kyoto Sanjusangen-do Hall, Toshiya was also held at Edo Sanjusangen-do Hall & the cloister of the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji Temple, both made for Toshiya. Skills and tools devised for Toshiya still have an impact on today's Kyudo (the general term referring to the culture related to traditional Japanese archery).


There are various theories on the origin of Toshiya. Some say Toshiya began around the year of the Hogen War (around 1156), when Genta KABUSAKA in Kumano shot through the hallway with neya (arrows for actual battle) under the eaves of Kyoto Sanjusangen-do Hall, but it is just a legend.
Toshiya is said to have caught on from around the Tensho era in reality, and in 1595, Hidetsugu TOYOTOMI banned it saying, 'It is prohibited to try to shoot an arrow at Sanjusangen-do Hall in Yamashiro Province (the present southern part of Kyoto Prefecture).'
Incidentally, Hidetsugu himself liked Kyujutsu and tried Toshiya. In those days, the number of arrows shot through the hallway does not seem to have been contested yet.

The Heibei ASAOKA in 1606 that first appeared in "Nendai Yakazu Cho" (the chronicle of arrow number records, published in 1651) was the first source to record the score of Toshiya. Being a vassal of Tadayoshi MATSUDAIRA, the seigneur of the Kiyosu Clan, and a pupil of ISHIDO Chikurinbo Josei, the leader of Chikurin sect of Heki school (one of schools of Kyujutsu), Heibei shot 51 arrows out of 100 through the hallway of Kyoto Sanjusangen-do Hall on January 19, 1606, thereby gaining fame as Tenka-ichi (number one under the sun). Thereafter, there arose a contest to see who could shoot the most number of arrows, and the record-breaker would describe himself as being Tenka-ichi. Many shooters tried to beat the new record, but the contest was expensive (reportedly, 1000 ryo), so it was indespensible for a contestant to have feudal backing.

After the Kanei era, it began to appear that the contest was a one-on-one battle between the Owari Clan and the Kishu Clan, and a new record was established one after another. On May 2, 1669, Shigenori (Kanzaemon) HOSHINO, the samurai who belonged to the Owari Clan, became Tenka-ichi with 8,000 arrows shot out of 10,542. On April 27, 1686, Norito (Daihachiro) WASA in Kishu Clan became Tenka-ichi with 8,133 arrows shot out of 13,053. This is the best record record standing. After that, Oyakazu gradually decreased its challengers, and from the middle of the eighteenth century, it was scarcely held. However, some events, such as Seni (One Thousand Shoots), were continued until the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate.

In 1642, Edo Sanjusangen-do Hall was constructed at Asakusa in Edo, and with more events held than the Kyoto Sanjusangen-do Hall, it had a large crowd, but it never did beat the new record in Oyakazu set by Kyoto. Even in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, the event of Toshiya was held, but in 1872, Edo-sanjusangen-do Hall was deconstructed.

Toshiya seems to have also been held in Todai-ji Temple. It was held under the eaves of the outside west cloister of the Great Buddha Hall (106.8m), and compared to Kyoto Sanjusangen-do Hall, the distance of the hallway was shorter, but its height was also shorter (from 3.8m to 4.1m), so the difficulty was much higher. In 1842, Hayataro ANDO, who was a vassal of the Koromo Clan at that time and later became a member of Shinsengumi (a Kyoto city guard unit), shot 8,685 arrows through the hallway out of 11,500 (the success rate - 75.5%) from around 6:00 p.m. on April 20 to around 3:00 p.m. on the following day.

During the Edo period, Toshiya became quite popular, but even in those days, some people were critical about its excessive sensationalization, and so, for example, Sadatake ISE said Toshiya was just play shooting and had no use in actual fighting. And even within the Owari Clan Chikurin sect that set many records, some groups did not participate in Toshiya because they regarded it as harmful to the essence of shooting.

After the Meiji period, Toshiya was scarcely held. Within Oyakazu, the last record chronicled is that of Masayuki WAKABAYASHI who shot 4,457 arrows through the hallway in 1899. But even after that, trial shootings were held several times. At present, 'O-mato Zenkoku Taikai' (The National Competition of Arrow Shooting at Large Targets) is held at Sanjusangen-do Hall around the middle of January every year, but the competition is such that the participants take aim at targets located 60 meters away, which is similar in appearance to, but different in substance from, Toshiya.

Place for contest

Kyoto Renge-o-in Temple (Sanjusangen-do Hall) - The full length (from edge to edge) of the hallway is 121.7m, and the height is from 4.5m to 5.3m, and the width is 2.36m. Incidentally, it is incorrect to calculate the full length of the hallway to be 120 meters by multiplying 33 and 2 and 1.82 together, based on the premises that each of the 33 column spacings is equivalent to "2間" (2 ken) and that 1間 is about 1.82m. This is due to the fact hat there exist 35 column spacings, and each spacing has a width of 3.3m except for that situated in the middle of the hallway, which has a width of about 5.46m. The width of the outer edge is about 4.4m. Please refer to the heading "Consruction" in the article concerning "Sanjusangen-do Hall."

Edo Sanjusangen-do Hall (in Fukagawa) - The full length (from edge to edge) of the hallway is 122.0m, and the height is from 5.0m to 5.6m, and the width is 2.69m.

The west cloister of the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji Temple - The full length (from edge to edge) of the hallway is 106.8m, and the height is from 3.8m to 4.1m, and the width is 2.10m.

Some feudal clans built Orikake or Dogata (the facility for Toshiya practice) and trained their own participants there. Orikake had three pairs of bamboo poles which stood in the same direction, and each pair of bamboo poles had a horizontal rope that substituted for the roof of Sanjusangen-do Hall. Dogata imitated the real hallway more faithfully with wood, and as its types, there existed a simple version that had only the part of the roof, and a full-scale version modeled on the real one. Dogata existed in the Kishu Clan, Owari Clan, Sendai Clan, Matsue Clan and others, they say.


With various distances (the full hallway, the half hallway, or 91 meters) and hours (a whole day and night, or a day) and arrow numbers (limitless, "Seni," or "Hyakui" [One Hundred Shoots]) combined, various events were held. The half hallway event involved participants shooting from the middle of the hallway and competed for the number of arrows shot through, and was aimed at younger people. Of all events, the most popular one was the combination of Oyakazu and the full hallway distance.

Oyakazu - Participants competed over how many arrows they could shoot through during a whole day and night. The varieties of distance at Edo Sanjusangen-do Hall were the full hallway, the half hallway, 91 meters, and 72.8 meters.

Hiyakazu - Participants competed over how many arrows they could shoot through during a day. Distances available for competition were the full hallway and the half hallway.

Seni - Participants competed for the number of arrows shot through out of 1000. Distances available for competition were the full hallway and the half hallway. and 91 meters. In addition, at Edo Sanjusangen-do Hall, there were the varieties of 109.2m, 100.1m, 81.9m and 72.8m.

Hyakui - Participants competed for the number of arrows shot through out of 100. The varieties of distance were the same as Seni.


As Toshiya progressed, so too did its tools evolve. Their major characteristics are as follows.

A bow (a weapon) - The length of the bow used in Toshiya was shorter than that of the usual one. At present, the bow used in Toshiya is on display within the main building of Kyoto Sanjusangen-do Hall.

An arrow - The arrow used in Toshiya was also a special version for the contest, which was a lightweight one having just a small feather and no arrowhead. Under the westside eaves of Sanjusangen-do Hall, there still remain some arrows stuck between the rafters.

A yugake (glove on the hand) - As Toshiya made progress, a kataboshi (glove with a hard cover on the thumb) & a yotsugake (four-finger glove) were invented, they say. A shooter wore an oshitegake (bow-holding hand cover) on its bow hand (left hand).

Others - A shooter wore a chest protector & a shoulder protector.

When Kanzaemon HOSHINO achieved the record of 8,000, his tools were as follows, they say.

The length of the curved limb of a bow - The length of the curved limb of the bow used for Toshiya was around 2.06m. That of an usual bow was around 2.21m.

The strength of the bow - When a weight of 16kg was hung on the string, the string was drawn by 58cm, they say. Supposedly, the strength of the bow was in the latter half of twenties by the kilogram.

The thickness of the curved limb of the bow (at the upper part of the grip) - Around 2.03cm to 2.06cm
The width of the curved limb of the bow (at the upper part of the grip) - Around 2.48cm to 2.52cm
The height of the curved limb of the bow (the distance from the limb to the string) - Around 16.7cm
The weight of the string - It was around 12g to 12.4g. The weight of the string gives an indication of the thickness of the string. At nakazeki (the part in the string, to which the arrow is fitted), the thread of shamisen (a Japanese stringed instrument), which was made of silk, was rolled twice, they say.

Yatsuka (The length of an arrow) - It was about 87cm.

The weight of an arrow - Starting with a heavy one (from 15.8g to 16.1g) in the morning, Kanzaemon decreased the weight of an arrow gradually, and in the evening, he used a lighter one (from 13.9g to 14.3g), they say.

The yugake - The oshitegake was a white-colored leather, and the yugake on the thumb of the right hand is unknown because Kanzaemon kept it secret.


Tenka-ichi records of Oyakazu at Kyoto Sanjusangen-do Hall from Heibei ASAOKA are as follows. They are based on the records in "Kojiruien Bugi-bu" (The Martial Skills Part of The Dictionary of Historical Terms). The dates are by the lunar calendar. Those who broke the record more than once described their feats in their notes.

[Original Japanese]